By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS (Reuters) -EU antitrust regulators received a boost from Europe’s second-highest court on Wednesday as it upheld a record fine against French telecom company Altice for jumping the gun on its bid for PT Portugal.
The decision empowers the European Commission as it investigates U.S. life sciences company Illumina for closing its takeover of cancer detection test-maker Grail without first securing EU approval.
Acting before approval, or jumping the gun, is a major offence under EU merger rules, with fines for violations of up to 10% of a company’s global turnover. Altice’s 125-million-euro ($146.7 million) fine was the biggest the European Commission has imposed to date for such an offence.
The Luxembourg-based General Court reduced the fine by 6.22 million euros, but did not cancel it.
The judges said in their ruling the reduction was because Altice informed the Commission of the transaction before the share purchase agreement was signed and that “immediately after that signing, it sent to the Commission a case team allocation request relating to its file”.
The Commission in its 2018 decision said Altice had breached EU merger rules by exercising decisive influence and veto rights over the Portuguese company before securing regulatory clearance for the deal.
Altice can appeal to the EU Court of Justice, Europe’s highest, but only on points of law.
In 2017, Facebook was handed a 110-million-euro fine for giving misleading information during the EU review of its WhatsApp bid. The sanctions did not affect both deals, which were approved.
The case is T-425/18 Altice Europe v Commission.
($1 = 0.8522 euros)
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by Barbara Lewis)